F (2010)

Every generation thinks the one after it is doing it wrong. The kids of today are always more irresponsible, more violent, less educated, and generally less civilised than the generation who went before them. Johannes Roberts’s F crystallises that attitude, with the added bonus that this time, the kids actually aren’t alright.

Robert Anderson is an English teacher whose life effectively fell apart when he was attacked by one of his students. He gave the kid a failing grade, handed out with a dollop of verbal abuse, and got a bloody nose for his troubles. When the school took the student’s side, suspending Anderson until the end of term and forbidding him to give out “F” grades anymore, Anderson lost his confidence – and, apparently, everything else. Separated from his wife and unable to keep control in the classroom, Anderson turns to drink. He’s paranoid, calling the police so regularly that they recognise his voice, and he’s one mistake away from getting the sack.

Anderson’s daughter, Kate, is a typical teenager: she rolls up her school skirt, smokes in the toilets, and sends text messages during class. She’s distanced herself from her father, leaving her mother to carry messages between them, and even in his classroom she barely acknowledges him. It’s a familiar situation; she’s not a bad kid, but she’s rebelling against his overly strict rules in every way she can, and the more he tries to rein her in, the further he pushes her away.

One winter evening, Anderson keeps Kate back after school, giving her a detention on spurious grounds – mostly just so that he can spend time with her – but even then, he can’t communicate with her. He confiscates her mobile phone, sparking yet another argument, but this time things go too far. His relationship with Kate – and with his wife – may never recover. The two of them are so effectively pushed apart from one another that they’re completely isolated when the killing starts.

The deserted school provides a great setting for some stalk ‘n’ slash action: it’s big enough that the few people who are still there are too far apart to hear or help one another, but connected enough that the killers can move from one area to another quickly and easily. There are plenty of places to hide, and, like any location that’s usually filled with people, an empty school is inherently creepy.

The killers are the embodiment of Anderson’s worst fears: youths in hoodies who have no respect for authority. There’s no apparent motive behind their killings, and none of the hoodies ever show their faces; whether they’re even human is up for debate. They move quickly and silently through the school, climbing the walls, running along shelves, hiding above eye level only to drop down and kill. The violence they perpetrate is random, and quick: they don’t linger over their victims, and they don’t appear to take any pleasure in their work. They just strike and kill, in a series of increasingly nasty ways. F holds back a lot of its gore; most of the killing is done off screen, with only sound effects or blood spatter to feed the audience’s imagination. The one moment in which we’re allowed to see what they’ve done to one of their victims, it’s shocking, almost incomprehensibly awful. These are some scary baddies.

The fact that the hoodies aren’t given names, faces, or motives makes them blanks onto which the audience can project their fears. They’re, literally, just hoodies; they’ve become dehumanised, not characters but symbols. There’s no need for them to have back stories or motives; just the fact that they’re wearing hoodies makes them frightening. And the relationship between Anderson and Kate makes us care: Anderson is far from being a hero, but F makes us feel for him, makes us experience his desperation to save Kate. To not to fuck up again. After all, the only reason she’s even in danger is because of him.

F is a film with almost no fat on its bones: there are only a few characters, even fewer who really matter, and it doesn’t linger over explanations. After the unrelenting tension of the previous scenes, the ending seems rather abrupt, but give it a moment: let it sink in. There’s maybe something slightly off with the pacing, but that ending seems to work better the further away you get from it. Downbeat, no-win endings are common among a certain strain of modern horror movies, and F couldn’t have ended any other way. This isn’t a gung ho revenge flick. F is a film about loss of control; a film about the breakdown of relationships; a film about the unbridgeable gap between one generation and the next. It’s a film about choices, and sometimes, there is no right answer.

IMDb link

No comments: